If you want some fun historical facts about Independence Day, here are a few:

1. Though the Declaration of Independence was adopted (after much adjustment to the verbiage) on July 4th, 1776, the Richard Henry Lee Resolution that called for all political ties with Great Britain to be “totally dissolved” passed on July 2, 1776.

2. Though the document was adopted on July 4, 1776, it was not signed by various representatives until August of the same year. Some delegates likely did not sign until years later. The signature of Thomas McKean of Delaware, for example, was not present on earlier versions of the document.

3. Prior to June 2, 1776, three states – Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia – had already declared Independence autonomously and instituted republican governments. The latter had also adopted the Virginia Constitution of 1776, the first ever written and ratified by representatives of the people in the history of the world.

4. Though Thomas Jefferson receives unambiguous credit for the authorship of the document, it was not widely known that he was the primary author of the document until the 1790s, when the Hamiltonian Federalists feuded with the Jeffersonian Republicans.

5. Up until the mid-19th century, July 4th was celebrated mostly as partisan holiday. The Jeffersonian Republicans celebrated the occasion as an extension of the federal orientation of the union and the system’s unambiguous emphasis on political decentralization. The nationalist-leaning Hamilton Federalists, on the other hand, were more apt to celebrate the birthday of George Washington in place of celebrations on July 4.

6. Several aspects of the document were very reminiscent of the philosophical ideas of John Locke, including the claim that government was instituted to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (Locke’s famous treatise substituted “property” for the latter), and also the idea that the ties to one’s government could be justifiably altered and abolished when said government went beyond these ends.

7. Jefferson thought the honor of the drafting the document was far less desirable or noteworthy in comparison to influencing political matters in his own state. In the days he sat in Philadelphia writing the document, he had been writing to peers in Virginia, begging the General Assembly to relieve him there such that he could return to contribute to Virginia’s republican constitution.

8. As the head of the five-man committee tasked with producing the document, John Adams explained that Jefferson had been selected as the primary author for three reasons. First, he came from the most influential state, and Adams strongly believed Virginia’s support was vital to the cause of independence. Secondly, Adams also had a great deal of respect for the eloquence of Jefferson’s pen, and was familiar with A Summary View of the Rights of British America. A third and most telling reason that Jefferson should write the document, thought Adams, was that Jefferson was popular and trustworthy, while Adams was disliked by the other delegates. “I am obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular,” wrote Adams, and Jefferson was “very much otherwise.”

9. Rather than creating a national government, the Declaration made known that the states were individual polities with all the powers of a modern nation. As “Free and Independent States” that were “Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown,” he wrote, “all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.” The Virginian characterized the states as the ultimate wardens of their own authority, and masters of their own sovereign destinies. The states were no longer subservient to the will of George III or Parliament, which declared that they were bound by Parliamentary law “in all ways whatsoever.” Jefferson wrote that the new “Free and Independent States,” therefore, had “full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” The words made it definitively known that the states are not only independent of Great Britain, but independent of each other.

Dave Benner
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